October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. The disease is currently the leading cause of cancer deaths, accounting for approximately 18% of deaths in the country. It is therefore imperative to detect it early. Breast examinations are check-ups, mammograms for screening breast cancer before symptoms develop. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the earlier it’ll be treated and the greater the likelihood of survival.
Recommended detection guidelines for every woman include:
- Monthly breast self-examinations should begin at age 20.
- Clinical breast examination should be completed every three years from ages 20-39, then every year thereafter.
- Baseline mammogram by the age of 40. Mammogram screening every one to two years depending on previous findings.
- Mammogram every year for women 50 and older.
Breast examinations are of 3 kinds: monthly breast self-exams, annual clinical breast examinations by a health care professional and regular mammograms.
Self-breast Examination (BCE)
All women over the age of 20 should have a BSE every month, two to three days after period, or on the same date each month for menopausal women. Monthly BSE allows you to learn how your breasts normally look and feel, as well as to detect changes. The following changes should be reported to your health care provider:
- new lump in or near the breast or under the arm
- thickening or swelling of part of the breast
- irritation or dimpling of breast skin
- redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast
- pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
- nipple discharge other than breast milk that occurs without squeezing
- any change in the size or the shape of the breast
- pain in any area of the breast
Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)
During a CBE, a doctor or nurse does the examination, inspecting for lumps and other changes. A CBE should be a part of every yearly health exam for women 20 years of age and older.
Breast Imaging – Mammography
Mammograms are the best available method to detect breast cancer early. The goal of mammography is to find cancer when it is still too small to be felt by breast self-examination or the doctor.
Mammograms produce high-quality X-rays, with a low dose of radiation. The breast is positioned between two smooth plastic plates to flatten the breast tissue and allow a lower dose of X-ray. The x-ray images show tumors; they may also show abnormalities that sometimes indicate the presence of breast cancer. Although the procedure may be uncomfortable, it only lasts for a few seconds, and the entire procedure for about 20 minutes.
Other kinds of breast imaging include Digital Breast Tomosynthesis, Breast Ultrasound, Breast Needle Biopsy, Breast MRI, Cryoablation, and Fine Needle Aspiration.
If you find a lump during a self-breast exam;
- Don’t panic. There are a number of possible causes of non-cancerous breast lumps, including normal hormonal changes, a benign breast condition, or an injury. I recall having a lump scare about 7 years ago. When I told my mother, she immediately began binding and casting the devil. Trust our mothers. However, after a trip to the hospital, it was discovered that the symptoms were caused by harmless hormonal changes. My apprehension quickly dissipated.
- Call your doctor if the lump or other breast change is new and worrisome. Especially for changes that last longer than one menstrual cycle or appear to grow more noticeable in some way. If you menstruate, wait until after your period to see if the lump or other breast change goes away on its own before contacting your doctor.
- Know what to expect. At an appointment to evaluate the lump, the doctor will take a health history and do a physical exam of the breast, and will most likely order breast imaging tests.
- Make sure you get answers. It is important that your doctor gives an explanation of the cause of any lump or change and, if necessary, a plan for monitoring it or treating it. If you’re not comfortable with the advice of the first doctor you see, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion.
How to make breast self-exam part of your breast cancer screening strategy.
- Make it routine.
- Get to know your breasts’ different “neighborhoods.” The upper area — near the armpit — tends to have the most prominent lumps and bumps. The lower half can feel like a sandy beach while the area under the nipple can feel like a collection of large grains. Another part might feel like a lumpy bowl of oatmeal.
- Start a journal where you record the findings of your breast self-exams. Record what is “normal” as well as any changes month to month. breasts.
In sum, while no single test can detect all breast cancers early, performing a breast self-exam in conjunction with other screening methods can improve the chances of early detection.